While the ongoing health, political, economic and social impacts of the coronavirus pandemic continue to preoccupy people across the world, as recovery plans are discussed and taking shape, decision makers are encouraged to use this as an opportunity to set our societies on a more sustainable development path.
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and others are advocating the idea that the COVID-19 crisis—which is changing the way we live and work, and perhaps priorities in life and mindsets—can pivot economies towards "building back better", with, for example, a greater focus on clean energy, green jobs and sustainable development. for further information see the IDTechEx report on Distributed Generation: Off-Grid Zero-Emission kW-MW 2020-2040.
The International Renewable Energy Agency's (IRENA) Renewable Capacity Statistics 2020 shows that new renewable power—principally hydropower, wind, solar, geothermal, and bioenergy—accounted for 72 per cent of all power expansion last year. Renewable energy expanded by 7.6 per cent in 2019, adding 176 gigawatts (GW) of generating capacity globally, marginally lower than the (revised) 179 GW added in 2018.
"Renewable energy is the fastest growing source of electricity supply, but it's important to bear in mind that electricity accounts for only about 20 per cent of energy used—the rest is mainly fossil fuels: coal, oil and gas," says UNEP energy expert Mark Radka. "Renewable energy is still challenging in many end-use sectors such as aviation, shipping, industry and heavy transport," he adds.
Which renewables did best?
Solar and wind continued to dominate renewable capacity expansion, jointly accounting for 90 per cent of all net renewable additions in 2019. Solar, with 586 GW, increased by 20 per cent, while wind, with 623 GW, increased by 10 per cent. China and the United States continued to dominate the increase in wind power, while China, India, Japan, the Republic of Korea and Viet Nam had the highest new solar capacity in 2019.
Hydropower accounted for the largest share of the global total, with a capacity of 1,190 GW. It increased minimally by 12 GW (up 1 per cent on 2018), possibly because some large projects missed their expected completion dates. China and Brazil accounted for most of the expansion.
Other renewables included 124 GW of bioenergy, 14 GW of geothermal, and 0.5 GW of marine energy. Turkey, followed by Indonesia and Kenya, led in expanding their geothermal energy use.
Off-grid capacity grew by 160 MW (up 2 per cent) to reach 8.6 GW in 2019. Bioenergy accounts for 40 per cent of off-grid capacity. China accounted for half of all new capacity in biofuel use.
Renewable generation capacity by region
Asia accounted for 54 per cent of new capacity in 2019 (44 per cent of the global total).
Capacity in Europe and North America expanded by 6.6 and 6 per cent respectively.
Oceania and the Middle East were the fastest growing regions (up 18.4 and 12.6 per cent respectively), although their share of global capacity is small.
Africa only increased by 2.0 GW (up 4.3 per cent) to reach 48 GW.
Non-renewable capacity (oil, coal and gas) expansion in 2019 continued to follow long-term trends, with net growth in Asia, the Middle East and Africa, but net decommissioning in Europe and North America and little change in other regions.
"In some ways the COVID-19 crisis is the perfect opportunity for us to pause and to ramp up a just transition to carbon neutral economies, with all the benefits that we will have in terms of health (cleaner air) and mitigating costly climate change impacts," says UNEP climate change expert Niklas Hagelberg.
Nature is in crisis, threatened by biodiversity and habitat loss, global heating and toxic pollution. Failure to act is failing humanity. Addressing the current coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and protecting ourselves against future global threats requires sound management of hazardous medical and chemical waste; strong and global stewardship of nature and biodiversity; and a clear commitment to "building back better", creating green jobs and facilitating the transition to carbon neutral economies. Humanity depends on action now for a resilient and sustainable future.
Source: United Nations Environment Programme
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